New hot Lebanese restaurant Ilili amazes with interior garden design

Inside the glass-walled building that serves as the crown jewel of DC’s waterfront dock development, a brand new Lebanese restaurant offers a visual feast before customers even open their menus. Within the 4,500 square feet that make up Ilili, there is a large limestone fountain that first flowed in Provence, France, at the end of the 19th century. The bubbling centerpiece is one of the few pieces in the restaurant that was not made in Lebanon. Citrus fruits are emerging from square planters painted green. Hanging bird cages full of steel doves with bulbs for heads to float above. Daisy tiles covering the floor anchor the space with bright pops of blue and white.

“We tried to create an enchanted garden in the courtyard of a beautiful house in old Beirut,” explains chef and main owner Philippe Massoud. “This is not your Disney-style corporate restaurant. It is a restaurant with a soul and a passion.

Ilili, one of the wharf’s most ambitious projects to date, opened at 100 District Square SW on Thursday, October 7, with a full menu of modern meze, saffron-infused Negronis, and Chesapeake touches like donuts. of blue crab falafel that can be added to Hummus.

Aside from its modern, glass-enclosed exterior, the self-contained space is unrecognizable from its short life as Mike Isabella’s French-themed Shark. To capitalize on his views of the million dollar waterfront, Massoud completely demolished the interior to open a line of sight from the entrance to the pier. An exterior addition with high tech retractable windows provides front row seating for boats floating on the Potomac River.

Maximizing the ceiling height to 25 feet allowed the design team to go all out, which explains the giant bird cages hovering seven feet from the ground.

“We wanted to glorify them a little more. It’s a huge space, so the cages have become our lights, ”says architect Nasser Nakib, who collaborated with DC-based design studio 3877. Nakib jokes that unless Kareem Abdul-Jabbar comes in, “everyone is safe.

A yellow sofa winds around the perimeter of Ilili, designed with help from Lebanese textile design studio Bokja and Beirut-based rattan craftsman Barbour.
Rey Lopez / Eater DC

Nakib also designed the original Ilili, still in service after 14 years in New York’s Flatiron District. In this space, a dining room with amber reflections is dotted with beautiful burgundy chairs inspired by the Phoenician Empire. Ilili’s sophomore space takes a gentler approach, reminiscent of the innocent childhood days when Nakib and Massoud grew up in Beirut.

“Tragically, Lebanon is a heartbreaking story right now,” Massoud said. “It is a country hostage to the militias [Hezbollah] and the mafia, being the political elite. They stole from the Lebanese [of billions]. It’s bankruptcy and people are suffering a lot.

Wanting to support the people at home, Massoud sought out Lebanese artisans to shape the decor as much as possible. This includes the copper base that runs under a 25-foot marble-topped bar, floral-patterned hand-woven seat backs, and floor tiles. Positioning the flight path of each hand-painted dove took two days alone, Nakib says. The winged symbol of peace has been a theme from the start, with an image of doves and orange trees at Nakib’s father-in-law’s farm welcoming guests near the front door.

Ilili's bar features marble and copper details.

A 25-foot marble bar filled with Middle Eastern wines and spirits like arak is framed in reclaimed wood and copper tile.
Rey Lopez / Eater DC

Other personal touches from Nakib include a cheerful blue and yellow tile pattern in the bathroom, inspired by wallpaper in his mother’s old bedroom. For a family touch, the restaurant used preserved wood from a Massachusetts tobacco barn to frame the bar. Indoor greenery can help diners offset the winter blues.

The 128-seat space can accommodate 20 in a cocktail area and 10 at the bar. The Lebanese restaurant adds to a growing range of cuisines at the dock that includes options for Italian (Officina), Mexican (Mi Vida), Spanish (Del Mar), Pan-Asian (Kaliwa) and French (bistro soon to open. of the day).

“The views are really majestic and I think the fact that it’s been unoccupied for so long has created a bit of a boring corner,” Massoud said. “Now you have everything you need and don’t have to travel anymore – you can make one nation at a time.”

Massoud plans to take his team on trips to Turkey, Istanbul, Greece and Lebanon to explore Mediterranean history and cuisine firsthand when post-pandemic travel conditions improve. For now, he’s happy with how his new restaurant will impress visitors.

“With all the negativity that we went through, I wanted to do something to turn him on his back, to come here and feel like I was transported … [through] the space, the food and the service, ”explains Massoud.

Ilili's dining room features reclaimed woods, a copper bar and blue daisy-shaped tiles.

Nasser Nakib Architect collaborated with DC-based Studio 3877 to create the look.
Rey Lopez / Eater DC

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